World

Thai police obtain arrest warrant for Pakistani man in connection with bombing

Thai police on Thursday obtained an arrest warrant for a Pakistani man in connection with last month's deadly bombing in Bangkok that the authorities blame on a people-smuggling gang that moves ethnic Uighurs out of China.

Police spokesman Prawut Thavornsiri said the warrant for Abdul Tawab cites charges of conspiracy to possess unauthorized explosives and conspiracy to possess unauthorized war materials. The warrant was based partly on testimony that he had frequented an apartment where police found bomb-making materials and arrested another suspect.

Tawab is the first Pakistani suspect wanted in connection with the Aug. 17 bombing that killed 20 people. Twelve previous warrants seek the arrests of a Thai woman and 11 men who are believed to be Turkish or Chinese, or whose nationalities are unknown. Two men have been arrested so far.

Police say the motive for the bombing at the Erawan Shrine in central Bangkok's Rajprasong intersection was revenge for Thai authorities having interfered in their smuggling business, though they have not detailed how. They insist the perpetrators are part of a criminal network, and did not have political motives.

There has been speculation that the attack might have been done to punish Thailand for forcibly repatriating more than 100 Uighurs to China in July. Uighurs allege they are oppressed under Chinese rule, and a small and sometimes violent separatist movement is active. Uighurs are Muslims, and there are also fears that some Uighurs have allied themselves with international jihadist groups.

Thai officials insist the attack was unrelated to any kind of political terrorism, and only on Wednesday did police even publicly acknowledge that the alleged people-smuggling ring moved Uighurs from China to Turkey, where they have linguistic and ethnic links. 

The identification of previous suspects as being from Xinjiang, the west China home of the Uighurs, and from Turkey seemed to support a link to the Uighur political cause, but the naming of a Pakistani suspect bolsters the police theory that the case involves a multinational smuggling gang.

"This network is related to the smuggling of illegal workers. Most of them were not forced, they wanted to go to this and that country without being caught," Prawut said. "The people who planted the bomb at Rajprasong used this network's services."

Asked if the Pakistani suspect was still in Thailand, Prawut said he would check with immigration police, adding that the authorities have found a woman they believe is his girlfriend. He appeared to be referring to a woman detained this past weekend on an apartment in Bangkok. No charges have yet been filed against her. 

Thai media have speculated that the Pakistani man may have fled across Thailand's southern border, and could be one of three people Malaysian authorities have detained at Thailand's request.